According To Type

21 Nov

In his machine gun tone of delivery, Chris Rock eloquently captured the distinctions in class within America’s Afro-American population. According to him, there are black people and there are niggaz. Rock has been criticised for his willingness to confront racial tensions in his stand-up shows and although much celebrated, this particular routine could be seen as reinforcing certain cultural stereotypes. However to say that would be to miss the diatribe’s point; that there is a distinct separation in terms of class and attitude amongst America’s black communities. It is more a case of how black people perceive themselves and how there will always be a minority that allows the media to stoke public perception.

I sadly missed the joyous comeback in Saturday’s North London derby. I was on a stag do, doing manly things like shooting strangers with paint, donning medieval attire and doing my best to assert some kind of masculinity in terms of alcohol consumption. I can safely report I failed in that regard. I am neither a born soldier, a natural dashing knight of the realm, nor a very good drinker. I am content in that sense. I know my limitations and I’m past the age of doing things to impress others. In other words, I’m a grown-up.

Whilst drinking in a desolate local pub, a group of Spurs fans turned up, cranking up the decibel level with understandable joy at their side’s victory. But they were physically and verbally intimidating. Crass, boorish and with little sense of personal space and decorum. Being the only Spurs fan in the party, I was nominated to go to the bar that they had commandeered to get the next round in. “Go on, you’re one of them, get the drinks in,” I was summarily despatched.

Now of course, the comment was an aside and wasn’t designed to mean anything other than what it was but I began to contemplate the very nature of belonging to a particular tribe. Football is a broad church and welcomes anybody. More so than sports like cricket and rugby that have in the past been unfairly labelled as elitist. Football has been enjoyed through a multitude of social strata. In it’s formative years the game was a public school pastime. It was the preserve of the factory workers in the early part of the twentieth century. Industrialists spread the game like Christian missionaries as the Industrial Revolution encompassed the globe. In Vienna, the game was mulled over by intellectuals in cafes in the 1930s as it is now, in the coffee houses of Islington where you can see how the game has been gentrified over the generations; The Guardian superseding The Sun as the paper of choice at the Emirates.

The only thing that binds all these disparate souls together is the game itself. However, why we all love and how we perceive the game owes largely to our cultural and social attitudes and upbringing. There are people whose understanding of the game does not stretch beyond the transfer rumour mill of the Murdoch-owned media machine. The game for them is about beating the other lot. Bragging rights. Asserting one’s superiority over the other. It’s tribal and has its roots in those first primitive steps taken by our cave-dwelling ancestors. In other words, football fills the void that has been left once the feudal instinct has been deemed archaic.

Message boards are filled with bile towards opposing sets of fans. The infamous Leeds chant aimed at Manchester United’s darkest hour in Munich fifty years ago being a case in point. Or Spurs fans, abusing Sol Campbell with disgraceful insinuations and racial jibes. There are too many who hate their rivals with such passion that they’d rather see their ‘enemies’ suffer than their team succeed. All this attitude ever seems to achieve is the confirmation of pre-conceived notions about football by those who have no great love for it. Hence, why Margaret Thatcher and her sympathisers withiin the game jumped at the chance to aggressively impose ID cards and caged, electrified terraces in the 1980s. Because there are always those who act without thought. And with that we get lumpen behaviour. Which leads to hooliganism. Which leads to Heysel.

Of course I wanted Spurs to beat Arsenal, but I just don’t have it in me to spit venom at their fans. I’ll have a joke with them and a banter but the very idea of an Arsenal fan being on their own in a pub full of Spurs fans, fearing for their safety is just something that should not happen. Are all Millwall fans racist? Are all Spurs fans Jewish? Do all Newcastle fans have a fetish for going topless? Of course not. And neither are we all tattooed, beer-guzzling, skinheads with a propensity for lewd behaviour.

There are so many articulate and socially astute football blogs out there to read. Go and find them. And there are people who understand that the game resonates far beyond the limited horizons of the Premier League or Sky Sports or getting pissed and doing a wanker sign at the opposing fans. One of my favourite moments in my many years of going to White Hart Lane was having a chat with a West Brom fan after a 1-1 draw. We assessed the game. We shrugged. I wished him luck for his team’s battle against relegation. He wished Spurs luck for the rest of the season. We went our separate ways. The moment’s simplicity and mutual respect has stayed with me ever since.

Chris Rock says there a black people and there are niggaz. The only thing they share is a darker shade of skin. I say there are football fans and there are football fanz. The only thing we share is the love of the game. Other than that and maybe even because of it, we have nothing in common. And if you’re going to the bar, mine’s a skinny latte….



4 Responses to “According To Type”

  1. SpursSimon November 21, 2010 at 19:46 #

    Fantastic piece there Greg – excellent read.
    I have never understood the “as long as they lose” attitude – as I always point out if Arsenal were relegated, we wouldn’t have a derby, does anyone really want that??

    There is a long way to go to remove the still prevalent perception that most of us are drunk racists up for a fight, but we are also losing the fun part of terrace banter that I grew up with, it is a fine balance

  2. Steve F November 22, 2010 at 13:07 #

    Excellent piece. I watched the game in a bar in Singapore with some fairly raucous Arsenal fans. Was depressed at halftime and enjoyed it very much when Spurs won. But I really could not imagine Spurs and Arsenal fans sitting in the same pub and watching a game in the UK without there being trouble or fear of trouble which I find more much more depressing than Spurs losing.

  3. Steve HUghes November 22, 2010 at 17:54 #

    Good post and an interesting subject. I must admit I’m on the fence with this one. I completely agree that there is no place in a civilised world for behaving violently or trying to intimidate strangers because of the colour of their football shirt (even if it is Arsenal!). However I don’t agree with some of the comments that have been made that suggest watching football in pubs has become no-go, or that it is anything other than very unusual for minority fans to fear for their safety in a bar. Or indeed that there is anything wrong with over-indulgence when your team has just recorded a great victory.

    I’ll admit it – the vast majority of the time I am an armchair fan rather than a terraces man, but I’m someone who enjoys the adrenalin rush of watching a big game in the pub, surrounded by other fans. On these occasions, I find no harm in indulging in behaviour which I would not normally adopt outside of those 90 minutes. On many occasions in the pub I have screamed obscenities at the television/big screen when things are going badly, while celebrating in an exaggerated fashion when things are going well. I treat it as a form of escapism and it is a purely instinctive and involuntary reaction (as proved, I guess, by the fact I also generally behave this way at home while watching alone). I also much prefer to drink (and even get pissed) during these encounters – something I very much enjoy – fuelling the highs and lows to an even greater degree. Moreover when my rivals are doing particularly badly (Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea etc – I’m a Man United fan by the way) I am even happier. Saturday was an absolute delight because Arsenal and Chelsea lost. It was great because Man United won as well, but we’d expect to beat Wigan. We didn’t expect the other results, making it a fantastic weekend.

    The point I’m trying to make is, just because I allow myself to get carried away with the sheer desperate passion of the game, it does not mean I’ll ever try to start a fight with someone because of football. I’ve watched some very tasty matches in the pub. One that sticks out is when United beat Arsenal 3-1 at the Emirates earlier this year. I was in a North London pub which was 80% full of Arsenal fans. There was plenty of banter in the pub and the Arsenal fans were understandably unhappy, but I was sat with an Arsenal fan and the banter made the experience more enjoyable. There was plenty of screeching and swearing but also plenty of begrudging handshakes too. Rather than discouraging cohesion, I would prefer to watch a game in the pub with fans from the other team. It’s no fun watching a sporting spectacle where everyone supports the same team. At least in the pub you can usually mingle together – unlike at stadia around our country.

    I think (in a laboured way) this is the point I am trying to make. As soon as you start segregating fans, you encourage violence, bile and vitriol. A case in point is last week where I attended an FA Cup round 1 match between Charlton Athletic and Barnet, which attracted just 4,000 fans to Charlton’s 28,000-capacity ground. Sat with the away fans, I was shocked at the sheer hatred screamed by the away fans towards the home supporters. Some people had veins popping out of their heads they were so cross. I think the offence was that the ref gave a goal kick when it should have been a corner and the Charlton fans cheered their good fortune. God only knows what they’d be like when something seriously bad happens! However would these people behave the same way if they were at their office or even in the pub? Or was their yobbish behaviour simply down to the fact they had safety in numbers and they were never likely to meet the people they were shouting at?

    • SpursSimon November 24, 2010 at 08:35 #

      I think your last line is the answer – anonymity and safety in numbers.
      Even in the “bad old days” of perceived mass violence, it was only ever a few actually involved, but 100s more shouting a lot.

      Like you, if not at a game I prefer to watch with oppo fans for the banter and fun, and it is very rare that a lone idiot will try and ruin it for everyone.

      The whole point is fun, banter, chat, bragging rights etc – that is what makes it great or hell at work on a Monday

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